The attorney general’s office won a lawsuit against a D.C. property that wrongfully overcharged tenants residing in a rent-controlled apartment building.
Equity Residential Management, the management company of a rent-controlled apartment property, is required to pay nearly $2 million in restitution to tenants following a lawsuit filed by the attorney general’s office for overcharging residents for rent.
The court found that the property omitted critical information from leases about the actual monthly rent, according to court documents.
Located in Northwest Washington, D.C., Van Ness Apartments advertised a discounted monthly rent to potential residents, known as a rent concession, that was never disclosed. When it was time to renew their leases, tenants learned that the management company would base their rent increases on the disclosed rent and not the discounted rent that they had been paying. The court found that residents incurred over $700,000 in rent overcharges.
The lawsuit, filed Dec. 13, 2017, claimed that the management company violated the District’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act. The law allows the public right to truthful information from merchants about goods and services that are purchased, leased or received in D.C.
“The defendants misled tenants by advertising one rental price for an apartment but reporting a significantly higher price to District authorities, and by offering false explanations for price discrepancies between advertisements and amounts listed in leases,” according to the press release by the attorney general’s office.
As a result of the court findings, Equity Residential Management will be required to pay $985,000 to tenants, equal to the amount that each tenant was overcharged, as well as the cost of any application fees with 2% interest. Additionally, the management company will be required to pay the District about $1 million costs and attorneys’ fees.
Many tenants were upset with the rental practices of 3003 Van Ness Apartments, according to Harry Gural, who serves as the president of the Van Ness Tenants Association and has been a resident of the apartments since 2010. Gural described how he brought the matter to the attention of the attorney general.
“We asked the city for help many times, but we were ignored. I explained to the administration many times that our tenants and probably thousands of others were being overcharged, but it refused to help us,” he said. “So we turned to the attorney general, whose office was immediately responsive.”
According to Gural, the attorney general’s office interviewed many of the residents to collect evidence. “Our residents had been traumatized by the ‘rent concession’ scam, so they were really grateful that the AG stepped in. And they are even happier now that AG Racine and his team have won,” Gural said.
On Jan. 11, 2022, Equity Residential Management had motioned the court to reconsider the order. The court had denied this motion as the management company had been found violating the District’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act .
“Ensuring that residents of all income levels can continue to call the District home is a top priority for my office, and we will continue to use all the tools available to us—including consumer protection law—to preserve access to affordable and safe housing,” Attorney General Karl Racine wrote in a press release.
Street Sense Media reached out to the property’s management office for comment but did not receive a response at the time of publication.